Ah, those favourite scenes !
There is a lot of light in Ratna Varma's oil paintings. He has what one could call a 'loving eye' for the things he paints. The upcountry hillscapes, the village scenes, temples, working people, wild animals. They look beautiful, but not embellished. He paints them the way they are, with photographic accuracy.

He has a wonderful sense for brightness and shades, for contours and depths. The scenes are not new, actually quite the opposite. One looks at them with a sort of longing, as if saying "oh yes, I have been there, I have seen that before, and I am glad to see it again, in painting. Must go there again soon."

Born in India to a family of artists and musicians, he started his career on a more commercial basis. Working as an editorial artist at Lake House he then chose to pursue his studies at St. Martin's School of Distributive Studies in London. Thereafter he joined advertising agencies, initially in London and later, in Sri Lanka.

It was his wife and daughters who pushed him to paint again when he retired. Although he had exhibited at the Royal Institute Gallery in London and at the American Centre and the Art Gallery in Colombo back in the fifties, he had his come-back only after almost 30 years, at the Lionel Wendt, in 2000.

Ratna Varma will exhibit his work at the Havelock Place Bungalow from May 11 to 20.

Lively sounds in perfect step
I went for Ruwani Seimon Seneviratne's concert presented by her pupils 'The Voices in Harmony" with an open mind. The title "Gotta Sing, Wanna Dance" was intriguing. More often than not 40-odd enthusiastic young people singing can deteriorate into shouting. Let me hasten to add that this did not occur at any stage.

To my mind, the criteria for a good musical are that the singing must be disciplined, there must be clarity of expression and the enjoyment and enthusiasm of the participants must be conveyed to the audience, who then react positively. This was demonstrated in ample measure - we the audience thoroughly enjoyed the show.
An important feature was that the production started on time, unlike many other performances.

The programme comprised medleys, solos and duets from popular musicals. There were no pauses between the items, despite several changes of costumes and stage sets. Whilst the changes were effected, the soloists performed against the backdrop of the curtain. The singers had the spotlight on them in one corner of the stage, while a couple danced in the opposite corner. I personally found this a trifle distracting and would have preferred seeing the soloists on centre stage.

The soloists performed well, but as there were about 30 of them, the quality of singing was somewhat uneven. A few of the soloists were excellent.

The first half of the programme started off with a medley from Phantom of the Opera and came to a close with an enthusiastic rendering from Grease. This tended to reverberate and could have done without the overhead mikes.

My favourites were the medleys from "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" performed by the senior choir. Ruwani had also included a couple of not so familiar, but charming musicals The Little Mermaid and Sister Act sung by the junior choir who appeared to be really enjoying themselves on stage.

A single dramatic stage set relevant for each musical - for instance, Jesus Christ bearing the cross for J.C. Superstar and a magnificent stained glass window for Sister Act, formed an effective backdrop. The costumes were colourful and accurately depicted the period represented in the musical. The choreography was excellent and the accompaniment (piano, organ and drums) complimented the singing.

Ruwani has to be congratulated on the quality of the male tenors and baritone, who held their own against the sopranos and altos.

Often the male voices are over-powered by the female voices. The dance routines in the medleys too blended well with the singing. The singers were refreshingly natural - with none of the pseudo glitz of an American Broadway show.

No doubt, Ruwani and her students would have worked with much dedication and hard work to reach this high degree of professionalism. Ruwani personally handled every aspect of the production including the stage sets, the costumes and choreography (in conjunction with Azlan Bathusha) and also provided the piano accompaniment for some of the items. She was ably assisted by Kamalini Samarakoon on piano, Neomal De Alwis on organ and Kevin Baduge on the drums.
- Premini Amerasinghe

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